GAZA CITY, Palestine: A spokesman for Hamas’ armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, warned of renewed fighting with Israel if talks in Cairo to extend a 72-truce in Gaza, set to expire Friday morning, collapsed.
“We appeal to the Palestinian delegation to not accept a cease-fire, unless it satisfies the demands of our people,” a spokesman using the nom de guerre Abu Obeida said in a televised address, adding that Hamas was “ready to return to battle.”
The three-day truce ending four weeks of bloodshed between Israel and Hamas, in which 1,886 Palestinians and 67 people on the Israeli side were killed, was due to end at 8 a.m. Friday.
The sides have so far failed to negotiate an agreement to extend the truce, with the Palestinians accusing Israel of “procrastinating.”
Abu Obeida said the main demand of Hamas was the opening of a sea port for the blockaded enclave.
“We will not agree to stop the battle without a real end to the [Israeli] aggression and a real lifting of the siege,” he said. “If there is an agreement, it will be possible to extend the truce, but if there is not, we will ask the delegation to withdraw from the talks.”
Speaking from Cairo, senior Hamas political official and delegation member Ezzat al-Rishq, said: “The resistance in Gaza and the delegation in Cairo are in one trench.”
In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum said there was no official stance on either renewing the truce or resuming the fighting, but an anonymous official familiar with the talks was pessimistic.
“The factions currently think they will resume fighting tomorrow morning,” he told AFP.
U.S. President Barack Obama upped the pressure on the talks by saying Gaza could not remain forever cut off by Israel’s blockade, which has been in place since 2006.
“Long-term, there has to be a recognition that Gaza cannot sustain itself permanently closed off from the world,” he told a news conference in Washington, saying the Palestinians needed to see “some prospects for an opening of Gaza so that they do not feel walled off.”
In Gaza, local residents resigned themselves that the truce could be in jeopardy. Many are still sheltering in schools, reluctant to return to their damaged homes without a lasting truce.
“Everything is possible, everything is ready, if there are no demands [met at the talks], there will be more destruction,” said Najib Habib, 35, a laborer from Shujaiyeh, one of the worst-hit areas.
Figures released by UNICEF, the U.N. children’s fund, indicate that 73 percent of the Palestinian victims – or 1,354 people – were civilians. Of that number, at least 429 were children.
Hamas and Palestine Liberation Organization officials have laid out a number of demands, starting with the lifting of Israel’s eight-year blockade on Gaza. They also want the crossings with Egypt and Israel reopened and the release of around 125 key prisoners held in Israeli jails.
Israel’s negotiating team, which had earlier flown back for consultations with premier Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, was returning to Cairo, an Israeli official said, without elaborating.
“We haven’t been formally notified of Israel’s response regarding the Palestinian demands but we have learned informally ... that it wants to procrastinate and stall in the negotiations to avoid [giving us] the achievements of the cease-fire,” another Palestinian official told AFP in Cairo.